let’s talk mental health and c-level management

The month of February brings around the time of mental health awareness and encourages everyone of all levels to talk, listen and change lives.

From the C-Levels standpoint, we explore the impact of working at the top and juggling the work-life balance, what it takes to be a leader, rest days and switching off from work. While software businesses might be expected to focus solely on the tech, it’s important to take a step back and reflect on the process of operating at this level.

the challenge

The C-Level role comes with significant expectations, responsibilities, and complexities, and it is not normally afforded much leniency when it comes to taking a break; or even taking a breath. Over the past twelve months, the business world has faced unprecedented challenges, as well as a series of acute mental health challenges that any person would have had to deal with at some point.

While there is no guidebook for navigating business through a pandemic, there is a wealth of knowledge about addressing and supporting mental health and well-being. The challenge is for business leaders to lead the way and filter down a network of support for others to follow.

We had this discussion at Applicita with our Founder/CTO and COO to gain their personal perspective on this matter.

“A leader’s role is to provide space for others. Strength is to accept one’s own imperfections. And sharing this issue is a way to normalise it”

Q) As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before stressful or high-stake meeting, tasks, decisions?

Ceri: I like to be as prepared as possible before important meetings or making tough decisions. I spend as much time as I can investigating the topic, the people, the issues and anything else that may help me. I like to envisage the meeting or the ‘ask’ and think through all the questions that may be asked. I am a strong believer of always having the answer to the next question.

Q) What is the most striking difference between your actual role and how you thought it would be?

JK: It depends on the timescale! When I first started the business, I loved how I could code and make management decisions equally. As the business grew (and with some difficulty) I realised that the best contribution I could make to the team and to our clients was to focus on working on the business rather than in IT.

This has led me to taking up a role focused on Sales and Marketing which I find way more enjoyable than I thought I would, I particularly like to talk to people and come up with technology solutions to challenges they face.

Q) Have you experienced a state of burnout recently?

Ceri: I am regularly confronted by some serious stressors but most often I am able to handle the situation before I reach burnout. I have found that talking to my peers and asking for support really helps me to put things in to perspective and deal with the issues at hand.

JK: I push myself to do as much as I can all of time, this often means I am on the physical and mental limits of what I can handle without burning out. The challenge is the limit is not a fixed target, sometimes I can do more, sometimes I cannot so I often stray into the burned-out zone.

The positive thing is experience has taught me to recognise the symptoms and I take some time away from work and do some other activities I find enjoyable, this helps me to reset and get ready for more.

Q) What’s been the most challenging to balance during your working week?

Ceri: The most challenging aspect of my working week is maintaining a good work life balance – going to the gym, work, responsibilities around the house and walking my dogs.

Once I’m at my desk in the morning, I find it very difficult to walk away for lunch, to put a load of washing on and especially for a trip out with the dogs, into the freezing cold weather. But when I do get out for a walk or a chance to have lunch with my partner, I feel a sense of serenity and clarity that really helps me get through the rest of the day

JK: I am a creative person at heart, but I find getting in the creative zone difficult as there are always tactical priorities or distractions which draw my focus. I am aware of this issue and constantly looking for better ways to balance my time between the tactical, strategic, and creative needs of the business.

Q) How do you switch off from work whilst operating remotely?

Ceri: I find switching off really hard, I am consistently thinking about work, but I do turn off my notifications before 9am, so that I am not disturbed at the gym.

JK: In truth I almost never switch off, except for when I am in the gym. I try to have a phone-free / work-free day on Saturdays but it depends on the workload at that time.

Remote working is now the industry standard, but we also need to know when to take a break.

Once you are in a leadership role, it is easy to think you should be superhuman, but in reality, the opposite is true. Being vulnerable is a good characteristic for strong leadership.

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